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Traveler satisfaction with airlines drops – again

Low-cost carriers trump traditional airlines in a new survey of customer satisfaction. But all have room for improvement.

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Customer satisfaction with America's airlines has dropped for the fourth straight year, according to a survey by J.D. Powers and Associates, an independent research firm.

Just as in the past, low-cost carriers such as JetBlue and Southwest outdid their rivals, attaining higher overall satisfaction rankings than the traditional carriers like United and American.

The North American Airline Survey, conducted every year since 1992, measures seven factors, from cost to boarding procedures to flight crew and in-flight services. Of a total possible score of 1,000, the traditional carriers had an average score of 626, compared with 726 for the low-cost airlines.

A primary cause of the overall dissatisfaction is the economy and the fees that airlines have tacked on for services such as checked baggage, which used to be free, researchers say.

"About 29 percent of overall satisfaction is related to the cost and the pricing," says Paula Sonkin, vice president for travel and real estate industries at J.D. Powers in West Lake Village, Calif. "Given that 2008 is the year of the fees, I think that played a role."

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